‘I Will Never Find the Right Partner’
Your fears are right: you won’t. It seems harsh to say it just now but the right partner for you doesn’t really exist: there are just different varieties and degrees of wrongness. It’s not your fault or theirs. Anyone, however lovely they seem at first, will turn out to be maddening, difficult and deeply disappointing in a few – but to you very important – ways.
You are carrying the burden of Romanticism and are suffering from it gravely. You have been made sick by the beguiling – but fatally oppressive – fantasy that there’s a specific person you are meant to be with who will end the longing, who will be your soul-mate, sexual companion, chauffeur, housekeeper, co-parent, business partner and best friend.
You see them so clearly in your mind. That’s because you made them up. But they don’t, in fact, exist.
Advertising, films and music have done their utmost to convey to us that people do eventually, after a little heartache, find their ideal other, their long-lost twin. It’s a very powerful idea to lean on when you’re trying to sell a stranger a concert or movie ticket. But it isn’t true. The number of people around the world who are profoundly emotionally, sexually, practically and intellectually happy with a partner, for more than a brief period, is tiny. These lucky souls could, if gathered, comfortably fit on a small island in the Maldives. You’re unlikely to be among them – and won’t win the lottery either.
This doesn’t have to be the end. There’s a more mature idea of love around that stresses how invariably compromised all good relationships are. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn’t be its precondition. We manage to live wisely and comfortably around one another when we stop insisting that our partners must constantly share all of our tastes, interests and opinions. It is more than normal to be really quite lonely in large parts of our emotional lives.
An important factor – behind almost any decent relationship – is the capacity of each partner to manage cheerfully on their own. Relationships don’t solve the problem of loneliness for very long.
It’s easy to lament how awful other possible partners are. But reflect on the ways you are difficult to live with too. You must be to a significant degree – not because you are unusually freakish, but because everyone carries with them a range of flaws and failings that show up, horribly, on close inspection. You will to a significant extent be ruining the life of anyone you get together with long-term.
Stop looking for a perfect partner and start looking for that far nicer and more enticing prospect: a good enough one. The fact that no-one will be ideal doesn’t mean that another person will have nothing to offer. It’s just that what we need from them will arrive wrapped up in a lot of things we don’t need and don’t want.
Hopefully, the long painful single period hasn’t just been wasted time. It’s been a training ground for the true spirit of compromise and gratitude that lasting love demands.
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Essays: Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person
A collection of essays extended from The New York Times’ most-read article of 2016
Anyone we might marry could, of course, be a little bit wrong for us. We don’t expect bliss every day. The fault isn’t entirely our own; it has to do with the devilish truth that anyone we’re liable to meet is going to be rather wrong, in some fascinating way or another, because this is simply what all humans happen to be – including, sadly, ourselves. Shop now >>